ICloud syncing. Multitouch Lion. A "Cut the Cord" feature for iOS 5.
Those were the major announcements from Apple's annual keynote from the World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco Monday. But Apple CEO Steve Jobs packed this press conference full of updates, revisions, and improves for iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers.
Although he is technically on a medical leave, Jobs has made regular appearances at Apple events this year. WWDC was no exception, to the delight of the more than 5,000 developers who gathered in the Moscone convention center to hear him outline Apple's new software products.
The announcements made at the keynote fell in to three large categories, centered around the new "Lion" release of the Mac operating system; the iOS 5 release for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches; and a new iCloud offering.
Leading off the show was Mac OS Lion, a release that has been available to developers for quite some time in beta form, and thus is fairly well known. The presenters highlighted new features of Lion, such as the ability to run applications using the entire screen, rather than in windows. Many of the new features take advantage of Lion's multitouch support, a feature now widely used on the iPhone and iPad.
Mission Control is another new feature, allowing Mac users to quickly find and switch between their running applications. Also new is Launchpad, which looks almost exactly like the iOS main screen, with applications displaying as icons, and groupable into folders.
A useful feature of Lion is the ability to resume applications in the same state as you left them, down to which files are open and what text is highlighted. Working hand in hand with the new resume feature is autosave, which aims to free users from having to remember to save their documents or risk losing work. The "versions" feature lets a user access previous revisions of a document, and even move material from a previous revision to a new one.
Finally, Air Drop lets two Mac users transfer files easily between their computers using Wi-Fi.
The big surprise around Lion was the price, $29.99. This compares with $129 for previous OS upgrades, and will cover all Macs that a user owns. Evidently, Apple is anxious to get their customers to transition to Lion. Lion will be generally available in July, and in a major departure from previous Mac OS releases, will only be available as a download using the new Mac App Store.
Next up was iOS 5. After heralding the success of iOS, which is now installed on 200 million devices, 10 new features of iOS were highlighted.
Although there had been many rumors, the material presented was new to everyone in the audience, unlike the relatively old news around Lion.
The most awaited improvement was a revamp of the notification system, the pop up messages that remind iPhone and iPad users about messages, appointments, sports scores and the like. As had been suspected, Apple has totally restructured how notifications work. Rather than taking over the screen, notifications now appear as discrete messages at the top of the screen. It is also now possible to access notifications and take action directly from the lock screen.
Also unveiled was Newsstand, which takes the existing idea of magazine and newspaper subscriptions that was released earlier this year, and adds the ability to have subscriptions automatically update wirelessly in the background, so that (for example), your newspaper would be downloaded and ready for you to read when you got up in the morning.
Apple has also fully embraced Twitter, integrating the social networking service into many of the iOS applications. For example, you can directly Tweet a photo after you take it, or update your contacts' photos from their Twitter images.
The mobile Safari web browser will boast several new features in iOS 5. One will be the ability to view a page in full screen, with multi-page Web articles consolidated into a single long article. In addition, the clumsy interface for browsing multiple simultaneous websites will be replaced with the tabbed browsing feature adopted by all the major desktop Web browsers.
A new reminder system will take the idea of a task list to a new level, offering reminders based not only on times, but on locations as well. So, for example, you could have a reminder that you received when you arrived or departed from a given location, a feature known in the industry as geofencing.
In a nod to the many iOS users who use their iPhone as a camera, the camera application can now be launched directly from the lock screen. Other enhancements include being able to use the volume up button to snap a picture, pinching to zoom, and the ability to lock the autofocus and autoexposure on a given feature in a picture. The iOS mail application will now allow for rich text, so that users can place text in bold-face or otherwise format their outgoing messages.
They will also be able to search the full text of their email, and use a built-in dictionary to look up words. For those who like to type their email with their thumbs, they will also be able to use a new keyboard layout that places the keys closer to the edges of the screen in two clusters.
Receiving the most applause was the announcement that iOS devices will be able to "cut the cord" in the future. This means that you will no longer be required to own a PC to set up or maintain an iPhone or iPad, all functions including software upgrades will be available directly on the device. Upgrades will also be faster, because only the changes will be downloaded rather than the full operating system.
The Game Center feature, which Apple was quick to point out has 50 million users to XBox Live's 30 million, is also getting a facelift. Developer support was added to make turn based game (such as Scrabble) easier to create.
The one new iOS feature that faces the most questionable future is iMessage, a tool designed to let iOS users send messages to each other. Although it includes some novel features, such as delivery confirmation and the ability to tell when a message has actually been read, it will have to compete with existing message systems such as AOL's and Googles, which work with all users, not just ones who own iOS devices.
Developers will have immediate access to an early version of iOS 5, general availability was vaguely placed "in the fall."
The final announcement was iCloud, a free service for all Apple owners, that will make sure that all photos, music, mail, contacts, schedules, and books are universally available for all the devices the user owns. This will include Macs, and surprisingly PCs.
A long-desired feature that iCloud will enable is the ability to re-download any song you've ever purchased from the iTunes store. Previously, if you lost a song, it was gone forever. ICloud will work with up to 10 devices at once, and will also automatically install newly purchased applications or update edited documents in the background. ICloud will be available later in the year, but iTunes synching will be available starting today in a beta release of iTunes that anyone can download.
As usual, there was one final "by the way" up Steve Jobs' sleeve. This year, it was iTunes Match, a service that will take music that the user may have ripped off CDs, and make it available in iCloud in the same way that iTunes purchased music will be. It will work by matching the "signature" of a given song to the 18 million songs already in iTunes, and only uploading to iCloud the ones that aren't already there.
An additional feature of iTunes Match is that the matched music will be available in the high-quality encoding that iTunes uses, regardless of the quality that the music was originally ripped to. ITunes Match won't be free, however. It will cost $24.99 a year, probably a result of the negotiations that Apple has been in with the major record labels over the last few weeks.